Work Colleagues

What do you call the people you work with?

Nothing nasty I hope. Based on what I hear a lot lately, there’s a good chance you call them work colleagues. But here’s the thing:

Why not just call them colleagues?

If you think about it for just a second, you’ll realise that the work part is redundant. What  other kind of colleague can you have? Colleagues are defined as people you work with, specifically in your place of employment, not in school or college (unless you’re a teacher).

So why do a lot of people say work colleagues lately? First, let’s employ Occam’s Razor. One of the most common reasons for a phrase becoming popular is that it sounds good. And work colleague does have a ring to it, with its stressed/unstressed/stressed syllable rhythm. Because it doesn’t sound strange, people don’t really think too much about how strictly it’s not really logical. All it needed then to spread is really just one person to use it, and it would then spread memetically. It might also be that people have always been saying work colleague, and I’ve just started noticing it recently.

That’s the simplest explanation, though I wonder if people’s changing relationships towards work are also part of it. I feel like more people base their social lives at least partly around work, and therefore wish to distinguish between work friends, and people they work with but don’t see socially: their work colleagues.

Maybe it’s because the world of employment can be a little more fragmented, and people can have work relationships with people who aren’t necessarily direct colleagues: suppliers, contractors, business partners, consultants etc. You don’t consider these people your colleagues, but they do fit under the general umbrella you know from work, along with your colleagues, who you call work colleagues because you think of them alongside all these other work people.

I don’t really mind too much that people say work colleague, though there is a little pedant in me that’s get slightly annoyed when he hears it. Perhaps you’ve also noticed it, but if you haven’t you will now!

10 thoughts on “Work Colleagues

  1. A student asked what the difference between a co-worker and a colleague was. I said that a co-worker was more likely to be someone equivalent in the hierarchy, while a colleague could also be someone higher or lower. I would be inclined to call the other English teachers ‘co-workers’ and the director of studies and general manager, and the secretaries ‘colleagues’.

    The similarity/difference between ‘colleague’ and ‘college’ also confused many students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find lots of Romance speakers find those two confusing, as most of their spellings of the equivalent of “colleague” are similar to “college.” That’s a useful distinction between “colleague” and “co-worker.”

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  2. I don’t think I’ve ever used “work” in front of “colleagues” but I normally preface any conversation about them with “So I was at work the other day”, lol. I also like the explanation above re: co-workers vs. colleagues

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always found the term co-worker to be an awkward sounding combination, it sounds like a fellow worker who you have been forced to cooperate or share with or are shut in a room with. Probably this modern team mentality, all cogs in the machine thing. I can’t remember placing ‘work’ before colleague, if I was describing an event at work I’d probably say ‘A colleague at work said…’ or something along those lines.

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